It's widely believed that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from China in the thirteenth century.
If this was the case, then why aren't Chinese noodles today considered pasta? It is because the Chinese used millet flour. It is the Italians who used durum semolina flour which has a very high gluten content , making the noodles very malleable which is really the true and defining unique characteristic of Pasta.
In the early days pasta was not particularly popular in Italy, mainly due to its high price. You see, the process of making pasta from semolina flour was extremely labor intensive due to the fact that preparation included kneading the dough. Because of this high labor cost pasta remained a luxury food item. However as luck would have it, pasta found its way onto Italian sailor menus because dried pasta could be easily be transported on long sea voyages without spoiling.
Pasta really didn't start to become a widely consumed food in Italy until the industrial revolution came about. This is because machinery was developed that could automate kneading, dramatically reducing the labor and therefore dropping the price of pasta for the average family. The machine was invented in Naples and it is probably no surprise that Naples was the first Italian city to truly embrace pasta in a big way. The result is that most pasta dishes in the Italian diet are credited with being developed in the city of Naples.
Another seminal event in the history of pasta in Italy, which really saw its popularity skyrocket, was the introduction of the tomato. Given how common the tomato is in Italian cooking today it may come as a surprise to many of us to know that the tomato is not native to Italy, or anywhere in Europe for that matter. Tomatoes actually originated in South America and were only introduced to Europe by the Spanish who brought them back as one of the many spoils from the new world. Like pasta, the tomato was hardly an instant hit, many people thought it could be poisonous and avoided it like the plague. As time rolled on however it was revealed that consuming tomatoes wouldn't do you any harm at all and soon they were being used to create the most treasured pasta sauces known to mankind.
The idea of using the tomato to create a pasta sauce was quite revolutionary in and of itself, since for hundreds of years it was consumed sans any kind of sauce. In fact, up until the introduction of the tomato, pasta was routinely prepared all by itself. One knock-on effect of pasta was the use of the fork. Up until this time pasta had been prepared plain and most folks simply used their fingers, while forks were generally only used by the upper classes. And of course once the sauce was prepared with the pasta it became very messy to eat with your fingers so forks went into common use among all Italians and eventually became standard dinner instrument throughout Europe.
Soon after pasta made its splash, its popularity grew tenfold and has since become the staple diet of the Italian people. Part of this popularity is due to the fact that it can be produced in high volume at a notably low cost, offering the advantages of being quick and easy to cook and convenience of being stored for a long time. In today's modern world there are literally hundreds of different pasta dishes at your fingertips, and you can top it with almost anything. It's this variety which keeps the appeal for pasta alive to this day.
As you have learned pasta has a long history in Italy. Italians take it so seriously enough that they've enlisted laws for how pasta can be prepared. This gives you the confidence in knowing that if you sit down for a bowl of pasta in Italy you can be sure you're getting the real deal. Be sure to visit www.pasta.com for free recipes, how to make pasta videos, stories and delicious ideas for preparing your next pasta dish!